Study Guide

Hedda Gabler Wealth

By Henrik Ibsen

Wealth

Most like she'll be terrible grand in her ways.
MISS TESMAN.
Well, you can't wonder at that—General Gabler's daughter! Think of the sort of life she was accustomed to in her father's time. (1.12-3)

Money is one of the insurmountable barriers between Hedda and Tesman.

TESMAN.
[With the bonnet in his hand, looks at it from all sides.] Why, what a gorgeous bonnet you've been investing in!
MISS TESMAN.
I bought it on Hedda's account.
TESMAN.
On Hedda's account? Eh?
MISS TESMAN.
Yes, so that Hedda needn't be ashamed of me if we happened to go out together. (1.43-6)

When it comes to money, Hedda’s reputation precedes her. From the mention of her many suitcases to this line about the bonnet, her character is immediately defined by aristocratic wealth.

HEDDA
I'm only looking at my old piano. It doesn't go at all well with all the other things.
TESMAN
The first time I draw my salary, we'll see about exchanging it.
HEDDA
No, no—no exchanging. I don't want to part with it. Suppose we put it there in the inner room, and then get another here in its place. When it's convenient, I mean. (1.194)

Because she’s grown up with such excessive wealth, Hedda has no sense of practicality when it comes to matters of money.

HEDDA
[To BRACK, laughing with a touch of scorn.] Tesman is for worrying about how people are to make their living. (1.444)

So much of what Hedda resents in her husband is simply his fundamental character. Having come from wealth herself, Hedda has never had to worry about "how people are to make their living." She hates that Tesman (and, now that she’s married him, she herself) cannot be so cavalier.

HEDDA
Of course I cannot have my man in livery just yet.
TESMAN
Oh, no, unfortunately. It would be out of the question for us to keep a footman, you know.
HEDDA
And the saddle-horse I was to have had—
TESMAN
[Aghast.] The saddle-horse!
HEDDA
—-I suppose I must not think of that now.
TESMAN
Good heavens, no!—that's as clear as daylight! (1.494-9)

Hedda doesn’t resent that she will miss these luxuries – she resents the loss of power. George is telling her what she can’t have, which means he’s holding authority over her.

HEDDA
[With an expression of fatigue.] Yes, so I did.—And then, since he was bent, at all hazards, on being allowed to provide for me—I really don't know why I should not have accepted his offer?
BRACK
No—if you look at it in that light—
HEDDA
It was more than my other adorers were prepared to do for me, my dear Judge. (2.73-5)

This goes back to our claim from "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" that wealth is about both money and power. George promised to provide for Hedda, but he also promised to serve her; he pledged to give her money and power.

Do you think that is worth the trouble? Oh, if you could only understand how poor I am. And fate has made you so rich! [Clasps her passionately in her arms.] I think I must burn your hair off after all. (2.496)

Hedda isn’t talking about money here. When she resents her new lifestyle with George, she doesn’t just resent the lack of cash – she resents the bargaining power she used to have when she was a single woman. Read more about this in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."

MISS TESMAN Oh, one soon makes friends with sick folk; and it's such an absolute necessity for me to have some one to live for. Well, heaven be praised, there may soon be something in this house, too, to keep an old aunt busy. (4.29)

Again we see that money is representative of larger issues in Hedda Gabler. This line from Aunt Julie explains why she took out a mortgage on her and Rina’s pension to secure George’s furniture – that was her way of taking care of someone else.

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